Don’t get me wrong… I love Alan Cumming. I would happily listen to him read the telephone directory - if one still existed. But what on earth is he doing on camera, dressed in a suit and narrating They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead?
This device in Morgan Neville’s documentary about Orson Welles’s last movie, The Other Side Of The Wind, didn’t sit well with me at first. It felt jarring and unnecessary. However, by the end of the film, I wondered if there was more to his role than I had initially appreciated.
After all, many of Welles’s movies contained such narration. Perhaps this device is Neville’s way of linking his film with Orson’s? Perhaps They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is closer to The Other Side Of The Wind than we think...
After a brief round-up of the legendary director’s life and career and an even briefer introduction to the documentary’s key talking heads (family, friends, cast and crew members), Neville explores whether it is possible to discover the truth about Welles and his final film. Interviewees posit theories, only for those theories to be dismissed only moments later.
Along the way, Orson Welles is brought to life in all his enchanting and endlessly charismatic glory. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead really captures Welles’s sense of humour and mischievousness. These traits are mirrored in the documentary - Neville establishes a lively and (thanks to some truly superb editing) playful tone.
It is a joy to watch. As a result, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is a remarkable story about the making of a film (from both financial and artistic perspectives) and a poignant tale of the director’s final years. It is both fascinating and also heartbreaking as Welles experiences many setbacks and betrayals.
Despite his stature (both physically and in the world of filmmaking), Welles seems almost unbearably vulnerable in several of the documentary's scenes. Meanwhile, although Neville is largely supportive of Welles, he is not afraid to depict the director’s less appealing characteristics.
The Other Side Of The Wind was an incredibly complicated and challenging project that started in 1966 and still wasn’t finished by the time Welles died in 1985. The story behind this protracted process and the toll it took on its director, cast and crew is told both by Welles himself (via archive footage) and thanks to a series of engaging to-camera interviews.
At one stage, Welles explains that the greatest things in movies are the result of divine accidents. These interviews almost feel like divine accidents themselves. Neville does not include captions - so we do not know who is speaking - and he films his subjects from strange angles, often obscuring their faces.
The effect is to make the film feel like a collection of fragments that form and then reform - revealing fascinating insights into the filmmaking process. Then, at the end of They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead something unexpected happens.
As the documentary drew to a close, I found myself feeling frustrated that more was not included about how The Other Side Of The Wind was finally finished and released (on Netflix).
And then in the film’s final moments I realised that the finished product - the film itself - was never the point of this documentary - not for Neville and, perhaps, not for Welles either.
Filmmaking Documentary Recommendations
They'll Love Me When I'm Dead is part of the filmmaking sub-genre of Documentary 7.
If you enjoyed this movie, I would also recommend:
I would also like to include the following honourable mentions: Lost In La Mancha, Cameraperson, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films, Best Worst Movie and The Kid Stays In The Picture.
Do you have any filmmaking documentaries that you would like to recommend? If so, do let us know in the comments section below or over on Twitter. You can find me @500DaysOfFilm.